Press Release

IACHR Condemns Deaths in Protests and Calls on State Institutions to Protect the Human Rights of the Venezuelan People

January 25, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - Given the acts of repression conducted in different parts of the Venezuelan territory, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the loss of human life in the context of social protests. The Commission stresses its call for the various institutions of the State to end repression and protect life, liberty, personal integrity, the right to engage in social protest and freedom of expression for the Venezuelan people. The IACHR has set up a Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit (SACROI, by its Spanish acronym) to monitor the situation in Venezuela.

The political, social and economic crisis in Venezuela, made worse by a breach of constitutional order which led the rule of law to vanish, has reached new lows. There have been protests and demonstrations in more than 60 cities around the country since January 21, the largest among them on January 23 in Caracas. The acts of violence and repression of social protests, illegal raids, arbitrary arrests, and stigmatization and persecution of opposition activists that took place in various towns and cities caused human rights violations that were still being assessed and showed deteriorating conditions. According to the information that was immediately available, at least 26 people had died in Amazonas, Barinas, Bolívar, the country’s Capital District, Monagas, Portuguesa, Táchira and Yaracuy. Twenty-one of those people were said to have died in protests and five in the context of looting and riots, the latter in the state of Bolívar. There were allegations that the Bolivarian National Guard, the Bolivarian National Police, the Special Action Forces (FAES, by their Spanish acronym) and groups of armed civilians had been involved in several of those events. According to the Social Conflict Observatory, all victims suffered gunshot wounds. The IACHR was also told that scores of people had been injured—the figure kept changing—and at least 369 had been arrested since the protests started.

The IACHR further observes that freedom of expression is seriously restricted in Venezuela. On January 23, the State cut off Internet connectivity and prevented citizens from normally accessing social media. At least 10 journalists suffered attacks or had their equipment seized as they covered mass protests in several parts of the country. Reporters and independent media said they had been unable to adequately cover the protests for fear of being shut down by the government. The Commission stresses its concern about the possibility that renewed violence and political instability may worsen conditions regarding the economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of the Venezuelan people.

These serious events have happened in a structural context of human rights violations and major restrictions in access to rights including food, health, education and housing, which have led more than 3 million people to migrate to other countries in the region. In particular, the IACHR has monitored and expressed its concern about the pattern of repression and unwarranted restrictions of social protests, marked by recurring loss of human life; arbitrary arrests and incarcerations of opposition activists and people who publicly express dissent with the government; stigmatization and harassment campaigns against journalists, opposition politicians, human rights defenders and citizens in general, among other critical aspects the IACHR included in its last country report on Venezuela. It is worth mentioning that there are currently 278 political prisoners in Venezuela, according to data published by the organization Foro Penal Venezolano.

Given this serious situation, the IACHR calls on national, state and municipal security officers, particularly those active with the Bolivarian National Armed Force and the Bolivarian National Police, to respect demonstrators’ lives and to refrain from making an excessive use of force and of lethal weapons. Further, the Commission asks the Venezuelan State not to deploy special military or police corps and not to allow groups of armed civilians to take action in order to repress social protests. The Commission stresses that the State has an obligation to prevent impunity regarding allegations of a disproportionate use of force, and to investigate, prosecute and punish anyone who perpetrates human rights violations. The IACHR further calls on State institutions to refrain from conducting illegal or arbitrary arrests and to ensure that deprivation of liberty remains exceptional and is carried out with full respect for personal integrity and due process, ensuring that the affected person is taken before a judge and that their relatives are informed of their whereabouts. The Commission further urges competent authorities and the international community to prioritize the adoption of any measures necessary to protect economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, in the context of the human rights crisis that is ongoing in Venezuela.

The IACHR urges the State to ensure that human rights defenders can work without suffering violence, stigma and criminalization. The Commission further asks the Venezuelan State to take effective measures to protect the lives and personal integrity of opposition leaders, particularly National Assembly Speaker Juan Guaidó, who has been recognized as interim president of Venezuela by the governments of Argentina, Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras , Panama, Paraguay, Peru and the United States.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights stresses its belief that the path to overcome the current political crisis and to restore democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela must be peaceful and involve full respect for the human rights of the population, particularly the rights to life, personal integrity and personal liberty. Finally, the IACHR insists on its disposition to conduct an in loco observation visit to that country.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 015/19